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Denver Mayor Mike Johnston wants to provide housekeeping and hygiene for those in homeless encampments

Mike Johnston wants to improve cleanliness in homeless camps
Mike Johnston wants to improve cleanliness in homeless camps 02:57

Denver's new Mayor Mike Johnston says he wants to improve the cleanliness of homeless encampments but sources tell CBS News Colorado he wants to go further and end all sweeps through the end of the year.

The mayor's spokesperson said that's not true. She says he will continue to close large encampments, but she says he also plans to make encampments cleaner by meeting the hygiene and housekeeping needs of the people who live there.

But Denverites like Craig Arfsten wonder, why make an encampment comfier and cleaner if you plan to close it.

"I heard the mayor is going to bring in port-a-potties, dumpsters, showers. The mayor is going to make their lives more comfortable but what about the lives of the residents that live around these encampments?" Arfsten asked. 

Arfsten is with Citizens for a Clean and Safe Denver - a grassroots organization that, like the majority of Denverites, supports the camping ban.

Johnston's plan, he says, enables encampments and the criminal behavior that he says comes with them.

"They're involved in violent crime, they're involved in property crime, and then just overall quality of life crimes. Why would the mayor want to continue enabling that behavior when we have such a great shelter system in Denver?" he asked.

The more comfortable encampments become, Arfsten says, the bigger they will become, and the bigger problems they will present for those who live near them.

"It's really not addressing the core issues. The core issues are drug addiction and mental illness. The model needs to be recovery first not housing first. There needs to be a more serious look at how do we connect these individuals with professional addiction counseling and treatment, not a wraparound service," he said.

The new mayor, he says, needs to take a new approach. There's no compassion, Arfsten says, in allowing people to openly use drugs until they overdose and die, no matter how clean and comfortable their accommodations.

"They need to come out in public and defend their position on this stuff so there can be a debate out there in the public forum of what is the best solution. Right now, it's all hidden behind smoke and mirrors," he said. 

The mayor's spokesperson says he will unveil his plan to improve cleanliness as early as next week and is in the process of developing a full plan for addressing encampments. 

For now, she says he's focused on outreach and support while continuing enforcement, although his office says there have been no sweeps this week. Johnston is also trying to identify more money to support all his efforts.

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